Saga Japan – Travel Guide to Explore this Gorgeous Area in Kyushu Island
Saga, Japan – Saga is located on the western side of Japan, and is part of Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island. Most tourists who travel over to the west side tend to veer towards heavyweights such as Fukuoka and Kagoshima along the coastline, or the mountainous forested prefecture of Oita, however, Saga is quite a beauty in its own right. Although it is smaller, it offers some unique sights and experiences, and even boasts its own specialty: intricate ornamental ceramic ware that’s distinct to the Saga prefecture. It’s a great getaway option for those into their arts and craft!
Saga City itself is full of wonderful gastronomical delights that you can experience, such as the renowned buttery Saga beef, as well as shrines and temples for some quiet and relaxing exploration. Surrounding the city are engaging day trips that you can do to get to know Saga’s coastline and inland communities. It’s a wonderful respite for the hustle and bustle of Japan’s major cities, so if you’re seeking a beautiful off the beaten path destination in Japan, give Saga a go!
How To Get to Saga, Japan?
You will first need to get to Fukuoka, and the best ways are via train or plane.
How To Get To Saga From Osaka
Take the Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka Station directly to Hakata station. From Hakata Station, take the limited express train to Saga City. This trip should take roughly three hours, and cost under 20,000-yen one way. However, if you have the JR pass and take the Sakura train to Hakata, it is fully covered.
How To Get To Saga From Tokyo
The quickest and cheapest way is to fly from Tokyo to Fukuoka. Flights normally start from 6,000 yen with Jetstar for a one-way ticket for the two-hour flight. From Fukuoka Airport, there are direct buses outside each terminal which will take you to Saga Bus Centre. The bus trip will take just over an hour and cost 1,230 yen one-way.
Where To Stay in Saga, Japan?
Guesthouse in Saga, Japan – Saga International Guesthouse Hagakure
This adorable guesthouse is everything that you would expect of a budget accommodation in Japan, and so much more. It offers dorm-style rooms that are gender separated as well as mixed-gender rooms, and there is the option to book a private room as well. There is free Wi-Fi offered throughout the property, and there is also a bar that’s open to all guests. The facilities are all clean and well-maintained, and there is a calming and cosy atmosphere here. This is a great option for those who enjoy exploring whilst cycling.
Guest Tips: The bar is hosted by a very friendly Japanese girl, highly recommended to wind down there with a drink if you have the time. If you’re worried about space, don’t be as the rooms are very spacious, even the dorm rooms. They have staff here who speak fluent Korean.
Book It Now: Saga International Guesthouse Hagakure
Hotel in Saga, Japan – Villa Ishinokura Hotel
This place is called a hotel, but it’s more of a premium private villa than anything. Guests here will actually get their own private residence, almost like a home away from home, and it’s simply luxurious. The tall ceilings, wooden decor, amazing views of the luscious greenery outside, and spacious entertainment and guest rooms have been well thought-out and are very inviting. All the little touches such as the premium body lotions, well-equipped kitchen, amenities in the bathroom, and huge TVs make for a very, very comfortable stay indeed.
Guest Tips: One night is definitely not enough to soak all this in, it is recommended to stay at least two nights! Make sure you turn on the music whilst you’re using the bathroom, it’s divine. The kitchen has everything you need if you want to cook at home.
Book It Now: Villa Ishinokura Hotel
The Best Things To Do in Saga, Japan
Discover in the list below the main activities not to miss when you travel to Saga in Japan:
- Takeo Shrine and Onsen
- Yutoku Inari Jinja
- Visit Arita
- Yoshinogari Park
- Saga Castle
- Taku Seibyo
- Try Saga Beef
Takeo Shrine and Onsen
Takeo Shrine, located in the onsen village of Takeo, was first built in the 700s, and is still standing in all its glory today. For that feat alone, it definitely deserves a visit if you’re in the area. The shrine itself is of religious significance, however, one of the main reasons why people visit this site is because of the camphor tree located on its grounds – a tree that is said to be a whopping 3000 years old, stands at 30m tall, and has branches that extend more than 30m out! It is referred to as the sacred tree of Takeo Shrine, and it is glorious. Visitors to the tree claim that they feel as though they’ve been purified simply by being in its presence.
Also located on the site of the Takeo Shrine are the two “married couple” cypress trees, which have rooted down next to each other in a way that their branches have also intertwined. It is said that visiting this tree will bring romance and love, and good luck into marriages.
After visiting the shrine, you should spend some time at the onsen baths in Takeo, as it said that the waters here are silken, largely in part due to the level of sodium bicarbonate. Back in the day, this was a popular location for prominent Japanese figures. Nowadays, there are several public baths that visitors can enjoy, including Motoyu, which offers a hot bath and a cold bath for each gender, and Horaiyu, which offers just one pool for each gender. For a more premium experience, you can visit Saginoyu, which offers guests access to a sauna and an outdoor bath.
All of these public baths can be found around the popular Sakura-mon Tower Gate.
- Address: Japan, 〒５３３５ Saga, Takeo, JP 843-0022
- Access: From Takeo-Onsen Station, it is an 18-minute walk.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Address: Japan, 〒843-0022 Saga, Takeo
- Access: From Takeo-Onsen Station, it is a 12-minute walk.
Yutoku Inari Jinja
Located south of Saga within Kashima City is the famous Yutoku Inari Shrine. The distinct bright red gates which are presented via an equally bright and stunning red bright is one that celebrates the Shinto-Buddhism deity named Inari, one who is known to bring prosperity and protection of rice.
Similar to Kyoto’s popular Kiyomizudera temple, it boasts a wooden hall platform that sits 18-metres above the valley ground. You can get great views up here, as well as if you climb up the cobblestone stairs through the torii gate trail to get to the top, where you will find a small Okunoin shrine hall, where you’ll be able to look over Kashima City.
During January, winter peonies bloom here, and during April, spring peonies are spotted in abundance, making it a great option to go flower-watching if you want to avoid the major crowds during the spring season influx.
- Address: Furueda, Kashima, Saga 849-1321, Japan
- Access: From Fukuoka’s Hakata Station, take the limited express train to Hizen-Kashima and then catch a bus to the shrine. The entire trip will take just over one hour. The train ride can be covered by the JR pass if you have one.
As we mentioned earlier, Saga is known for its intricate pottery craftsmanship, and the best place to be able to witness this is at Arita and its sister village Imari (where the pottery is actually shipped out). People started catching wind of the quality of Saga porcelain a few hundred years ago and it’s been uphill since then.
Nowadays, if you walk through Arita town, not only will you get to experience a very traditional Japanese atmosphere, but there many attractions which you can experience that will enlighten you on the process and extraordinary results of pottery in this area.
The best places to visit would be the Kyushu Ceramic Museum, which displays gorgeous collections of Arita pottery produced locally using local methods as well as specialised pottery pieces from other regions of Kyushu as well, the Izumiyama Quarry, which is where the Arita people first discovered kaolin stone used to make the porcelain pieces, and the Folk and History Museum, which is a quaint museum that highlights the production process and the daily lives of Arita pottery craftsman.
If you still have time in Arita, don’t miss out the amazing Tozan shrine. Its very special feature is the gorgeous torii covered by small pieces of ceramic. Amazing work!
Kyushu Ceramic Museum
- Address: Japan, 〒844-8585 Saga, Nishimatsuura District, Toshaku
- Access: From Arita Station, it is a 12-minute walk.
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm (Closed Mondays)
- Price: Free (small fee for special exhibitions)
- Address: 4 Izumiyama, Arita, Nishimatsuura District, Saga 844-0001, Japan
- Access: From Kami-Arita Station, it is a 15-minute walk.
Folk and History Museum
- Address: 4 Izumiyama, Arita, Nishimatsuura District, Saga 844-0001, Japan
- Access: From Kami-Arita Station, it is a 13-minute walk.
- Hours: 9:00am – 4:30pm
- Price: 100 yen
This is probably one the most visited attractions in Saga, simply because of its unique Japanese beauty. Yoshinogari Park was a village back then, but now is essentially an archaeological site that has been beautifully re-structured to look identical to its original structure from around 300BC. It is said to have served settlements in the Saga prefecture all the way back during the Yayoi period.
When you arrive here, you’ll find that the architecture of the huts here is very different to what you’re used to. Even the more famous Hida Folk Village huts are vastly different to these, thus making it a great way to get to know more about the history of Japan. It is said that the earliest forms of Japanese government happened around this period on this very site!
Here, you can explore ancient pits, rooms, and even tombs that date back more than 2000 years ago, and for those who are interested in the Yayoi Period of Japanese history, this is said to be the best and most well-preserved village so make your way, stat!
For those who think they might get over this village, there are actually many areas that offer other recreational activities here as well, including a miniature golf course, playgrounds, wide open expanses of grass where you can leisurely picnic, and even a field of flowers that you can explore. There is also a restaurant and souvenir store located at the East Gate, making this a great full or half day trip.
- Address: 1843 Tade, Saga 842-0035, Japan
- Access: From Saga Station, take the train to Yoshinogari Park Station (12-minutes).
- Hours: 9:00am – 5:00pm
- Price: 460 yen
Like most cities, Saga boasts its very own castle that was built in the early 1600s. However, it was then reconstructed in the late 1800s, and during this time it was considered one of the largest wooden structures in all of Japan. During its original standing time, though, it was beaten down by many fires, eventually succumbing to its demise in the early 1700s.
Nowadays, when you visit the castle, you’re visiting the very-well reconstructed version that reflects the palace exactly as is from its original build day. People can spend their time leisurely exploring the grounds and the towers of this castle, however, the best thing to do is make sure that you head up to the top of the inner towers to capture a view of the entire city.
- Address: 2-18-1 Jonai, Saga, 840-0041, Japan
- Access: From Saga station, you can catch a bus for 10-minutes to Saga Castle.
- Hours: 9:30am – 6:00pm
Confucian Temples are not as common in Japan as other religious sites; however, the Taku Seibyo Confucian Temple has made quite a name for itself – it’s actually the oldest Confucian temple in the entirety of Japan! It was actually built in the early 1700s, and now stands as one of the three major Confucian temples in the country.
A visit here will consist of a leisurely stroll through the temple grounds to explore and admire the structures and religious monuments. The temple is actually located within a scenic park area as well, so if you have time, we recommend that you pack some food for an afternoon picnic if you’re really looking to unwind.
If you’re visiting during mid-April, Taku Seibyo Temple actually hosts a Spring Sekisai Festival. It is to pay tribute to Confucianism and involves multiple ceremonies with song and dance and exciting festivities.
- Address: 1843-3 Takumachi, Taku, Saga 846-0031, Japan
- Access: From Saga Station, take the JR Karatsu Line to Taku Station. From there, grab a taxi and you’ll be at the temple in 10-minutes.
Try Saga Beef!
You’ve heard of Kobe beef, now it’s time for Saga beef! Hidden under the radar of Japan’s epic food scene, Saga beef is actually premium quality marble beef that’s rated between A4 and A5 on the Japanese wagyu beef grading system. That is some serious marbling!
Saga City is littered with restaurants offering Saga beef across a whole range of dishes; however, we recommend simply getting it grilled or barbequed to get the most of the flavour and texture of the meat.
One of the most popular places to eat Saga beef might be at the Sumibi Yakiniku Maruju restaurant. It opened up in 2011, so it’s relatively new, but it’s commanded lines outside the door since then, and you’ll likely not get a seat on the weekends if you don’t make a reservation. Best thing about this place is that it’s affordable!
- Address: 3-3-26 Matsubara, Saga, 840-0831, Japan
- Access: From Saga Station, it is just under a 20-minute walk.
- Hours: 5:00pm – 11:30pm
Saga Japan might not warrant an entire week of exploring, however, we definitely reckon that if you’re heading over to the west, make some time, because the strong cultural influences of Saga is featured all over the country, and so visiting this humble prefecture is a great way to get to know the roots. We recommend maybe spend 1.5 to 2 days here, possibly in between Fukuoka and Kagoshima, so that you can squeeze in most of the above into your itinerary as well as try to fit in as much Saga beef as possible!